During a motion hearing for George Wagner IV, 28, in the Pike County Court of Common Pleas on Monday, testimony revealed more details concerning evidence in the capital cases against four members of the Wagner family charged in the murders of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in April 2016. (See related story from Sept. 2.)
After hearing testimony, Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering denied the defense’s request for bond, meaning that Wagner remains in jail without bond while awaiting his trial.
The members of the Wagner family who have been charged with murder in the 2016 killings in addition to George Wagner IV, include his father, George Wagner III, 49; mother, Angela Wagner, 49; and brother Edward Jacob (Jake) Wagner, 27.
During Monday’s hearing, Ryan Scheiderer, special agent for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) who acted as lead investigator of the murder cases, was examined by the defense and cross-examined by prosecution, which resulted in much discussion concerning evidence in the case. Scheiderer indicated that the evidence in the cases includes ballistic evidence, shoe print evidence, forged documents, recorded conversations, and text messages.
Scheiderer indicated that custody of Jake Wagner and victim Hanna Rhoden’s daughter was a motive in the case.
During his testimony, Scheiderer indicated that the state knows the three calibers of firearms used to carry out the murders, namely, a .22-caliber long rifle, a .40 caliber, and a .30 caliber.
He said that .22-caliber shell casings were recovered from a Wagner property at 260 Peterson Road in Adams County that matched shell casings found at the crime scenes.
He also indicated that shoe prints were found at crime scenes and that BCI was able to determine what type of shoe produced those prints. Later, they obtained video of Angela Wagner purchasing similar shoes, he said. Scheiderer said the shoes were never recovered.
Scheiderer also stated that palm print evidence was obtained from a photo of Jake Wagner “holding what we suspect to be the murder weapon,” the .22-caliber firearm.
Scheiderer alleged that George IV signed a forged custody document for his son that is the identical type of document allegedly signed by Jake Wagner dealing with custody of his daughter with Hanna Rhoden.
A third document, giving custody of their daughter to Jake, was allegedly signed by Hanna Rhoden, although prosecution said that it was not her signature.
These documents were printed out in April 2016, shortly before the murders, but the documents were allegedly backdated to 2014 and 2015.
Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb, has stated that the signature notarizing the documents was not hers and that she was asked by Angela to lie and say that it was her signature.
The documents allegedly signed by Jake and George IV gave the custody of Jake’s child and George’s child to their mother, Angela Wagner, if something were to happen to them, rather than to the children’s mothers.
The laptop used to print the documents was owned by Jake Wagner, Scheiderer said, but “there is strong evidence that all of them used that laptop” and that Angela seemed to be the primary user of it. In response to a question from defense, Scheiderer said that he has no evidence that George IV used that laptop.
Scheiderer said that on the night of the murders, George IV’s phone was at 260 Peterson Road but that he does not know if George was with his phone or not.
Scheiderer also spoke of recorded statements by Wagner family members that the prosecution had obtained. At one point, Scheiderer said that he sent a text message with a picture of the suspected murder weapon with a suppressor to George IV and at that time his response to his family members was that “this is a family emergency”.
Defense attorney Richard Nash indicated that in approximately 100 days of recordings of George Wagner IV, the state has no statements from him tying him to the homicides.
Scheiderer said that he believes the “family emergency” text is indicative of guilt.
While he believes that text was indicative of guilt, Scheiderer stated that he is not aware of any other statements from George IV implicating himself.
During his testimony, Scheiderer also said that a witness told investigators that they were present at some point when the four defendants were “basically organizing a retaliation plan should they get arrested and charged.” Scheiderer said this plan specifically targeted himself, then Ohio Attorney General (now Governor) Mike DeWine, and then-Sheriff Charles Reader.
During cross-examination by Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa, Scheiderer said that the Wagners were very suspicious of being wire tapped and were engaged in counter-surveillance to avoid detection. He indicated that evidence suggests that preparation for the murders began to take place in February 2016.
“The Wagner family, through what we found in the investigation as well as their own admittance, is (that) they are very close … There has not been a period of time where George Wagner has not lived with his brother or his mother. Now, at that time he was not living with his father except the night of the murders his father was there.”
Scheiderer said that the Wagners’ finances were intermingled and that they worked together, lived together, homeschooled together, and raised their kids together.
“Everything was done together,” he said.
According to Scheiderer, George IV had been married, and he indicated that when George and his wife divorced there were some child custody issues, with the mother giving up all of her parental rights to George IV. Scheiderer indicated that the mother of the child was not represented by an attorney but that George was. He said that George IV’s wife fled the residence after she and George had an argument and Angela Wagner allegedly made a comment that she was going to kill her.
Scheiderer also said that Hanna Rhoden said in a Facebook Messenger message that “they” would have to kill her before she would sign custody papers.
Nash argued that the evidence presented did not implicate his client but rather pointed to Jake and Angela Wagner.
“This whole case, if there is a case, and I’m not saying there is, but it’s about Edward ‘Jake’ Wagner and Angela Wagner,” Nash said.
Nash indicated that the prosecution’s argument against bond for George IV amounted to saying that the family did everything together, and, “therefore, based on that they want the court to believe that the presumption is great that George Wagner was involved in homicide.”
“We would remind the court that the presumption must be great (of) that person’s involvement to deny bond,” Nash said.
Canepa said that the Wagner family is “unique in the fact that they are very insular, somewhat cult-like.”
“Despite what the defendant says, there is very strong evidence connecting not just his family but him to these crimes,” according to Canepa.